Thousands bid farewell to late Ecuador star
© AFP

Thousands of fans filed past the coffin of Ecuadorian football hero Christian Benitez for a statesman-like farewell in Quito after an autopsy confirmed he had died of heart failure in Qatar.

The 27-year-old striker, who was eyeing next year's FIFA World Cup™, died suddenly after his first game with Qatari club El-Jaish last Sunday, shocking fans as far away as Mexico, where he played for Club America last season.

His family wept as thousands of people stood in line to enter a sports arena where the man affectionately known as "Chucho" was lying in a glass-top coffin, partly covered by the Ecuador national flag.

Before the funeral, his body underwent a second autopsy at the request of his wife and family, amid suspicion that he was not given adequate attention at a Qatari hospital after he complained of abdominal pains.

Luis Chiriboga, president of the Ecuador Football Federation, said the examination concluded that Benitez was "destined to die" due to a coronary problem that "could only be detected after his death."

El-Jaish had declared on Wednesday that an autopsy found that the sudden death was caused by heart failure.

His aunt, Brenda Benitez, told AFP that the new autopsy was requested "in order for the country to have clarity, for the speculation to stop.

"It has been very painful for us who knew the modesty and simplicity of Christian," she said.

The football star's body, accompanied by his wife Liseth Chala, landed outside Quito before dawn on Friday, with fire trucks welcoming him by spraying water over his airplane.

Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino was at the airport along with Ecuador national team players, including Manchester United winger Antonio Valencia, while fans waved flags of his Ecuador club El Nacional.

Benitez was considered a key part of Colombian coach Reinaldo Rueda's Ecuador team that is hoping to qualify for the FIFA World Cup in Brazil, sitting third in the South American qualifying group, within range to book a ticket to the tournament.

In Mexico City, Club America will lead a standing ovation in the 11th minute of a game at the 105,000-capacity Azteca stadium on Saturday in honor of the team's former striker.