By Mohamed Fajah Barrie in Freetown

Sierra Stars have been withdrawn from the 2017 U-17 Africa Cup Nations qualifiers by the Sierra Leone Football Association (SLFA) ahead of their first round qualifying matches against Benin.

The withdrawal may see Sierra Stars face suspension from the qualifiers of the 2019 edition in accordance with the regulations of Africa’s football governing body, CAF.

The SLFA Director of competition Sorie Ibrahim Sesay told Sierra Leone that: “We have pulled out due to lack of funds.”

Sierra Leone understands that the SLFA needed thousands of United Stars dollars for Sierra Stars players to do MRI tests and also finance the team’s trip to Benin to honour their first round leg match slated for June 26.

The SLFA was unable to raise the money and was left with no option but to pull out of the qualifiers.

The withdrawal came after match officials have already been designated by CAF to officiate the two legs.

Burkinabe referees had been put in charge of the first leg in Benin while the return leg in Sierra Leone was to be officiated by Senegalese referees.

The withdrawal means that Benin have now advanced to the second round of the qualifiers without kicking a ball.

The finals will be held in Madagascar with most of matches expected to take place in the capital city of Antananarivo.

Sierra Leone are the sixth country to pull out of the 2017 U-17 qualifiers after Liberia, DR Congo, Malawi, Zimbabwe and Mauritius. This is the second time in row Sierra Stars have withdrawn of the U-17 Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers.

Sierra Stars were runner-up in the 2003 CAF U-17 finals held in Swaziland, qualifying them to represent Africa in the FIFA version of the competition that same year.