BREMEN, Germany (Reuters) - Werder Bremen extended their 39-year stay in the Bundesliga for at least another 10 days on Saturday, when they thumped Cologne 6-1 to avoid automatic relegation.
The four-times Bundesliga champions completed the first half of what could become a great escape as they climbed out of the drop zone and leapfrogged Fortuna Duesseldorf to finish 16th in the 18-team table.
They now face a two-leg playoff against the team that finishes third in the second division -- Heidenheim or Hamburg SV -- on July 2 and 6. Fortuna lost 3-0 at Union and were relegated.
Recent history is on Werder's side as the playoff has been won by the team from the top flight eight times in the last ten seasons.
"We pulled off a great performance today under pressure. But we are fully aware that we have achieved nothing," said Werder coach Florian Kohfeldt. "The emotions will be even greater than today in the playoff. I was impressed by how we stuck with it today."
Werder, who began the day two points behind Fortuna with a worse goal difference, have missed only one season, 1980-81, in the Bundesliga since it was founded in 1963.
The hosts, who had scored only nine goals at home all season before Saturday, struck three times in a six-minute spell midway through the first half.
Yuya Osako broke through in the 23rd minute, coolly slotting the ball past Timo Horn after he was picked out by Maximilian Eggestein in the penalty area.
Four minutes later, Milot Rashica burst down the left, dribbled past his marker and scored with a left-foot shot which went through Horn's legs. Then Niclas Fuellkrug got in front of his marker to flick Marco Friedl's cross into the net.
Davy Klaassen tapped a rebound into the empty net after Rashica hit the post in the 55th minute, and Osako notched his second three minutes later, latching onto Theodor Gebre Selassie's cross.
Dominick Drexler pulled one back for the Billy Goats after pouncing on a misplaced Rashica pass, before Josh Sergeant made it 6-1 to Werder in the 68th minute.
(Writing by Brian Homewood; Editing by Christian Radnedge and Hugh Lawson)