LONDON (AP) — Never before has England traveled to a World Cup better prepared — for the post-tournament inquest.
The search for answers to England's long-standing struggles began while the team coached by Roy Hodgson was still qualifying for its fifth straight World Cup.
Too many foreign players in the Premier League? England's lack of a winter break?
The Football Association commission's verdict won't be delivered until next season, but England's World Cup excuses are in earlier than ever before.
"We are limited because some of the players we'd like to choose, and have chosen in the qualifying games, aren't always regulars in their team's starting line-up," Hodgson said.
Just advancing from a group containing Italy and Uruguay would be an achievement. Even FA chairman Greg Dyke responded to the draw in December with a throat-slitting action that was caught on camera.
Four-time world champion Italy, which beat England in the 2012 European Championship quarterfinals, is first up in humid Manaus, followed by 2010 semifinalist Uruguay in a Sao Paulo stadium that is as much a work in progress as the England team itself. By the time England travels to Belo Horizonte to face Costa Rica, the engines might already be warming up on the runway for the return home.
England did go through qualifying unbeaten, but there was scarce encouragement from uninspiring performances with little attacking penetration. It hasn't been much better in World Cup warm-ups, with losses to Germany and Chile followed by an arduous 1-0 win over Denmark.
Hodgson desperately needs Wayne Rooney, one of football's top earners at Manchester United, to justify his star billing. The match-turning moments of brilliance in the penalty area Rooney can conjure for United have been absent too often on international duty, especially when it comes to World Cups. Rooney failed to score at the last two tournaments in Germany and South Africa.
"Maybe once or twice in the past he hasn't exploded as maybe he has on our national stage, where we all accept him as being an outstanding player," Hodgson said.