Cristian Benitez was one of Ecuador’s leading players at 27 years old when he passed away in Qatar in 2013 from a cardiorespiratory arrest while playing club soccer for El Jaish SC.
The gifted frontman, popularly known as Chucho, died after his first game for Qatari club El-Jaish SC, having just finished top scorer as his previous club America swept the Mexican Torneo Clausura 2013 title. Benitez earned an exceptionally high reputation on Mexican soil, having won two domestic titles, four top-scorer awards, and two league’s best players awards in his time with Santos Laguna.
In 1986, Cristian Benitez was born in Quito, Ecuador, and went on to follow in the footsteps of his father Ermen, the Ecuadorian league’s all-time leading scorer. As a teenager, he played with El Nacional, where his father had played. He soon became an integral part of that side that won the Torneo Clausura 2005 and Torneo Nacional 2006, to the extent that he was named the best player.
That year, Cristian Benitez played in his first FIFA World Cup, although it was in a 3-0 defeat against Germany in Berlin. Apart from that single international appearance, Chucho represented Ecuador in two Copa Americas (Venezuela 2007 and Argentina 2011), though La Tri never advanced to the knockout stage on either occasion.
During Ecuador’s unsuccessful qualifying attempt for South Africa 2010, the forward appeared 14 times and netted three goals.
Within a year of moving to Santos Laguna, Benitez helped them win the Torneo Clausura 2008 title, where he was named the league’s best player. However, after Birmingham City signed him in 2009, his performances there fell short of expectations, so he returned to Los Laguneros the following year and topped the scorer’s charts in the Clausura of 2010.
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Cristian Benitez scored the most goals in the Clausura 2012 and Apertura 2012 championships in his second season with Mexican heavyweights America. In the latter, he was once more voted the division’s best player. The club expressed its deep sadness at the tragic passing of one of America’s most recent idols.
People filed past the glass-topped casket containing the deceased in Quito’s General Rumiñahui Coliseum. Rafael Correa, the president of Ecuador, attended the public funeral ceremony. Then, in crowded streets, a police motorbike escorted the cortege to a private interment. The Ecuadorian Football Federation retired Cristian Benitez’s number 11 jersey after his death. The Azteca Stadium in Mexico City, a 105,000-seat stadium, hosted a standing ovation in honor of Club America’s former striker in the 11th minute of their next match.