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He is his country's most capped player with 96 international appearances. Most of his time with Belgium took place under the guidance of Guy Thys. This period saw the Belgium squad record some of their finest results, which include reaching the final of Euro 80 and fourth place at the 1986 FIFA World Cup.
Ceulemans' first of three World Cup appearances was at the 1982 FIFA World Cup, where Belgium beat the defending champions Argentina 1–0 in the opening game of the tournament at Nou Camp en route to reaching the second round. Among one of Ceulemans' finest achievements was captaining his national side to fourth place in the 1986 FIFA World Cup, scoring three goals in the tournament including a beautiful diving header against Spain in the quarter-finals. His performance earned the nickname "Captain Courageous".. He retired from international competition after the 1990 FIFA World Cup; Jan scored the 3rd goal in a 3–1 win over Uruguay but Belgium was eliminated by England in the round of sixteen, with the winning goal being scored by David Platt in the 119th minute in extra time. Jan had struck the post during the game.
Professionally, he stayed at Club Brugge for 13 years, endearing himself to his country when he turned down an offer from Italian giant A.C. Milan.
After retiring as a player due to knee injury, he became a manager at KSC Eendracht Aalst in 1992. He won promotion to Belgian First Division and even a qualification for UEFA Cup. He moved in 1998 to K.V.C. Westerlo where he also qualified for UEFA Cup. In 2005 he is back at 'his' Club Brugge where he would be manager for 3 years but after several bad results he was fired in April 2006. For the 2007–2008 season, he returned to KVC Westerlo. He currently lives in Kessel.