"If we keep the young generation for football, al-Shabab can't recruit them to fight"
On a police base in this war-scarred capital, the players in the Somalian under-17 national football team practise in mismatched attire for a match against Egypt.
Their field is a forlorn, uneven patch of earth covered with mud, rocks and rusty cans. There are no goal posts. ''The fighting is crippling our ability to train,'' said Yusuf Ali, the coach, as his players manoeuvred the ball around puddles.
If you thought the biggest woes a national football team could face were injured players, bad calls by referees or boisterous fans blowing vuvuzelas, think again.
In Somalia, playing football is an exercise in evading death. For football-crazed Somalis, merely watching this year's World Cup, the first in Africa, has required bottomless reserves of courage.
Al-Shabab, a hard-line Islamic militia waging a campaign of terrorism across Somalia, has banned playing football in many areas it controls. The militia - linked to al-Qaeda - and Hezb-i-Islami, a rival extremist group, prohibited World Cup broadcasts, describing the sport as ''a satanic act'' that corrupts Muslims.
The militants have brutally targeted politicians, clerics and peacekeepers - anyone who has challenged their extreme views.
In the past month, they have killed at least five people and arrested scores more for watching the Cup.
They have detained and tortured local football club owners on charges of misguiding youth. Yet the players on the national team have pressed forward, doing their best to train and play matches.
Thousands of Somalis living in areas controlled by al-Shabab have slipped into the sliver of territory ruled by the US-backed transitional government to watch the televised matches.
Somali football federation officials declare their defiance of al-Shabab's dictates is nothing less than a struggle for the nation's youth. ''If we keep the young generation for football, al-Shabab can't recruit them to fight,'' said the head of the football federation, Abdulghani Sayeed, who stays at a heavily guarded hotel in Mogadishu. ''This is really why al-Shabab fights with us.''
Ali's team has no choice but to play on the police base. Al-Shabab has taken over both of Mogadishu's stadiums to train recruits, most of whom are younger than 17. Since the collapse of the Siad Barre regime in 1991, a civil war has suffocated the development of Somalia's football players. The national team has never qualified for the World Cup or the Africa Cup of Nations.
With the rise of al-Shabab, their world has, more than ever, closed in - geographically and psychologically.
Militants have plucked children from football fields and forced them to join their militia. Many players and their families have fled areas controlled by al-Shabab. They have carried along their fear and a lack of confidence in the weak government's ability to protect them.
''I don't go any place. I just stay in my apartment,'' said Mahad Mohammed, 16, a team member who lives with his parents. ''It's possible al-Shabab will arrest me or make me join them.''
Most players keep a low profile, careful even about their choice of words.
''No one talks about al-Shabab,'' Ali said. ''If we criticise them, we will be attacked.''