Belgian player dies three days after suffering heart attack during match
Lokeren defender Gregory Mertens has died three days after collapsing during a reserve match, his club have announced.
The 24-year-old lost consciousness in the first half of a meeting with Genk on Monday night and was initially attended to by both the Lokeren and the Genk medical staff before he was transported to hospital.
But on Thursday Lokeren confirmed the player had died, through a statement on their official website.
It read: "Today something happened which no one could ever dare to predict. Much too soon, we are saying goodbye to Gregory Mertens.
"We are a football club. Everyone in and around the club lives and breathes football. But suddenly something happens which makes us realise football is just football. Today is such a time."
The Pro League club revealed heart failure had been the cause of Mertens' collapse and paid tribute to medical staff who had tried to save his life.
The statement continued: "Despite the good medical care of our own sports staff and colleagues in Genk, it soon appeared the situation was very serious.
"Gregory was revived on the field and transferred to the hospital in Genk. Medical staff have done everything they could to save Gregory, but they finally had to acknowledge their impotence.
"Today, Gregory died at around 1630 (local time). His family were able to say goodbye."
Mertens began his senior career at Cercle Brugge in 2011 before he made the move to Lokeren during last January's winter transfer window.
The Belgian defender made his debut as a late substitute in a 3-0 league victory over his former club on January 18, 2014 and went on to make 30 further appearances for the first team, including three Europa League outings earlier this season.
"The desperation felt by everyone at Lokeren is huge - both by our young players and our first-team guys, the coaching staff, the board - they cannot believe this was possible," the statement continued.
"Gregory was only at the club for a year and a half, but in that short time his quiet modesty made him an indispensable person. Now we will have to learn to live with the loss.
"We realise this is an incredibly difficult time for his family. We have offered them, in the name of the whole club, our sincere condolences. The club remain in contact with them and will assist them in any way possible.
"Gregory, we will miss you!"
The club added on their official Twitter account: "With sadness we announce the loss of Gregory Mertens. We send strength to all his family and friends."