German World Cup winner Hölzenbein dies at age 78

German former footballer Bernd Holzenbein, soccer world champion attends the DFL New Year's reception. Holzenbein, who helped West Germany lift the 1974 World Cup by winning a penalty in the final, has died at age 78, his long-time club Eintracht Frankfurt said on Tuesday, citing his family. Arne Dedert/dpa

Bernd Hölzenbein, who helped West Germany lift the 1974 World Cup by winning a penalty in the final, has died at age 78, his long-time club Eintracht Frankfurt confirmed to dpa on Tuesday.

Frankfurt said that their UEFA Cup and triple German Cup winner Hölzenbein died on Monday surrounded by his family after a long illness.

German national teams director Rudi Völler said in a statement by the domestic federation DFB that Hölzenbein "won many titles but even more hearts" in a life dedicated to football.

Winger Hölzenbein won 40 caps, scoring five goals, including the 2-2 equalizer in the Euro 1976 final against Czechoslovakia which the Germans lost on penalties.

Two years earlier, Hölzenbein fell under a challenge from Netherlands player Wim Jansen in the World Cup final in Munich which allowed Paul Breitner to level at 1-1 from the spot before Gerd Müller scored the winner.

The penalty was rated controversial but Hölzenbein always insisted that there was contact and that he didn't dive.

Hölzenbein was annoyed by the debate for a long time, saying that "no matter where I am, that's always the first thing that comes up. If that penalty is the only thing I'm remembered for, then that's a shame."

His stance softened in later years as he said: "Let's put it this way: it was a foul, but not one that still affects me today."

Hölzenbein spent most of his club career at Frankfurt, playing 532 matches overall, winning the 1980 UEFA Cup and three German Cups, and scoring 160 Bundesliga goals between 1967 and 1981 which is still a club record.

He left for the United States in 1981, playing for clubs including the Fort Lauderdale Strikers and Memphis Americans, before eventually returning to Frankfurt and later working at the club in functions including chief scout and vice-president.

"Bernd Hölzenbein has played a key role in shaping Eintracht for almost 60 years," Frankfurt board spokesman Axel Hellmann said in a club statement.

"He stands for the 'Golden 1970s' as well as for the European Cup victory in 1980 and also the 'Football 2000' that our club played in the early 1990s and in which he played a significant role as Vice President.

"With Bernd Hölzenbein, we are not only losing one of the great identification figures of our club, but also a loyal employee and an endearing friend."

DFB president Bernd Neuendorf named Hölzenbein "an outstanding footballer and a wonderful guy. On the pitch, he was a sly lad, someone who found solutions that no one else had seen.

"He was an exceptional player. Everything in his life revolved around football. His death leaves a huge gap at Eintracht and the German Football Association. We are deeply indebted to him and will miss him very much."

Hölzenbein disappeared from the public eye during the coronavirus pandemic, and, already ill at the time, his last big trip was to Seville for the 2022 Europa League final where he watched Frankfurt beat Rangers on penalties for the trophy.

"Bernd Hölzenbein was a role model for countless football fans throughout Germany, but he was always a star to rub shoulders with," Frankfurt president Mathias Beck said.

"Our sympathies go out to his family at this time. And in all our grief, we are proud and grateful that Bernd accompanied Eintracht for so long."