Singapore's 40-year-old goalkeeper Hassan Sunny was hailed as China's unlikely saviour Wednesday after playing a starring role in keeping their World Cup dreams alive.

China's hopes of reaching the third stage of Asian qualifying for 2026 were hanging by a thread after a 1-0 defeat to South Korea in Seoul on Tuesday.

Thailand then needed to beat Singapore by three goals in Bangkok to leapfrog China and snatch second place in Group C, which would have ended China's World Cup hopes.

Thailand did beat basement side Singapore, but only 3-1, with stopper Sunny making 11 saves in a man-of-the-match display.

Thanks to a better head-to-head record against Thailand, China squeezed into the next round, along with runaway group leaders South Korea.

On social media platform Weibo, the hashtag "Singapore goalie thanks Chinese fans", accompanied by a short clip of Sunny saying "Xiexie, China", racked up at least 130 million views.

The clip was flooded with comments from grateful Chinese fans.

"Turns out the national team's 12th man is actually the Singaporean goalkeeper," said one typical comment.

Another called Sunny "god-like".

"Have any of us ever given all we have to help a complete stranger in need?" the post added.

In March, Sunny said that he had followed other members of his family by going into the restaurant trade.

"Growing up I would always go to my uncle's shop and watch and learn, and it was a dream of mine from childhood to have my own restaurant," he told FIFA.com.

Chinese football fans have now pledged to pay him a visit.

"There's no way I'm not stopping in at this guy's restaurant next time I'm in Singapore," said one Weibo comment.

Others pointed out that Thailand's wasteful finishing had also helped China sneak over the line.

"Shouldn't we be thanking the Thai number 13," said one post, referring to the attacker Jaroensak Wonggorn.

"In injury time, with no defenders near him, he still managed to blaze the ball wide."

Eighteen teams will contest the third Asian qualifying round from September for the World Cup in the United States, Mexico and Canada.