Ecuador paid an emotional tribute to late striker Christian ‘Chucho’ Benitez during their home friendly with Spain on Wednesday.
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Colombian referee Wilmar Roldan stopped the game in the 11th minute, and the stadium announcer read a memorial message, as players from both sides stood and applauded respectfully. The crowd inside Guayaquil’s Estadio Monumental Isidro Romero rose to their feet and chanted "Chucho, Chucho" together.
Benitez, most recently of Qatari club El Jaish, had suffered a heart attack and died on July 29, aged just 27. He scored 24 goals in 58 games for Ecuador, spent the 2009-10 on loan at English club Birmingham City and had impressive spells with Mexican sides Santos Laguna and Club America.
Before the game the Ecuador players wore shirts featuring an image of their former team-mate, and they played in jerseys with a black ribbon sewn onto the sleeves. Fans also held up a huge replica of the former No. 11’s shirt in the stands.
Spain won the match 2-0, with Alvaro Negredo breaking the deadlock shortly after the tribute when he deftly flicked a Santi Cazorla cross into the net from close range.
Negredo, who was left out of this summer’s Confederations Cup squad, said in AS: “I hope I can keep coming with La Seleccion -- you must keep fighting. I missed it and really wanted to return. I have scored and I am so happy with that. I saw the ball coming and thought about hitting it like that. It seemed the best idea at the time. It came off very well.”
Spain coach Vicente del Bosque had praise for Barcelona winger Cristian Tello, Atletico midfielder Koke and Real Sociedad centre-back Inigo Martinez, who all made their senior debuts in the game.
“Tello did what we expected of him,” he said in AS. “Koke played well in the 20 minutes he had, not losing the ball, and Inigo Martinez the same. I am happy for them all. We have a good base for the future. Young players are coming up from below, which is very good.”
The veteran coach was also careful to praise the contribution of others including Cazorla, who scored Spain’s second with neatly drilled 15-yard shot, and new Napoli centre-half Raul Albiol -- players who have often travelled with the squad without getting much game time.
“As I have said before, there are other players who do not play as much as they deserve, such as Cazorla and Albiol, who always do their duty and never go wrong,” Del Bosque said. “For that, these games are good for those who play -- they are active and they feel integrated. We have a lot of confidence in our ‘block’ of champions, because they have the hunger to keep winning, and that is very important. We were up against an opponent who tested us; the two goals were brilliant and I believe we played well.”
Barcelona winger Tello, 22, who laid on Cazorla’s goal with a clever backheel, said it had been “a dream come true” for him and his fellow debutants.
“We three players who have made their debuts today are happy to have got the call from the manager,” he said in AS. “For me it was a dream come true to play with Spain and to start the game. I am keeping the jersey as a memory of having shared a dressing room with these great players. To come here makes me proud and shows that things are being done well.”