There has been no dearth of juicy stories from the ongoing World Cup in Russia, and we are just nearing the end of the group stage. There have been spectacular goals, major upsets and the emergence of surprise packages. However, it has not been immune to controversies. Here are some of them that have already rocked the tournament.

Granit Xhaka and Xherdan Shaqiri's inflammatory gesture

One of the biggest controversies of World Cup 2018 was when Granit Xhaka and Xherdan Shaqiri of Switzerland made a politically-charged gesture after scoring against Serbia. The two players of Albanian-Kosovo origin put their hands together in the form of what seemed like a two-headed eagle as the one in the Albanian flag. 

Xhaka and Shaqiri's actions were all the more significant as they were playing against Serbia, from which Kosovo had gained independence in 2008. Serbia, however, refuses to recognise Kosovo as an independent nation, and hence the two Swiss players' actions caused outrage in Serbia. FIFA fined the two players 10,000 Swiss francs each and Swiss captain Stephan Lichtsteiner 5,000 Swiss francs for the pro-Kosovo double eagle gesture. Shaqiri also reportedly sported a Kosovan flag on one boot and a Swiss flag on the other. 

This issue assumed fresh political colour with Kosovo now collecting money to pay the fines imposed on the three Swiss players, with Kosovo minister Bajram Hasani donating his monthly salary of 1,500 euros for the cause.

Referee refuses to consult VAR 

The Germany versus Sweden match at World Cup 2018 created a major controversy when the latter were denied a certain penalty. 

Marcus Berg was clearly brought down with a push to the back by Jerome Boateng. However, the referee refused to oblige and inexplicably chose to not even consult the VAR despite vehement appeals by Sweden.

Had that penalty been given and had it produced a goal, the consequences would have been profound. Germany went on to win the match 2-1 in stoppage time. A defeat would have knocked the world champions out while a draw would have had them placed precariously.

All's not well with VAR 

The video assistant referee (VAR) was brought in at World Cup 2018 to prevent controversial decisions, but it now seems to be getting mired in controversies. In a group match against Portugal, VAR upheld Iran's appeals for a penalty for a handball that was completely unintentional. Spain, on the other hand, were saved the humiliation of an exit when VAR overturned an offside call and upheld the equaliser. 

These two decisions completely changed the complexion of Group B, allowing Spain to top the table and avoid the tough Uruguay in the next round. VAR was again at the centre of the debate when Saudi Arabia were awarded a penalty for an innocuous challenge.

Wanton German celebrations annoy Sweden

Raucous celebrations by the German bench after Toni Kroos's stoppage-time winner against Sweden caused a lot of bad blood between the two teams. Germany were on the verge of first-round elimination after going one-down before Marco Reus restored parity. Still, a draw would not have been the best result for the defending champions who had lost their lung opener to Mexico.

However, Kroos's strike ensured that Germany were better placed to qualify for the Round of 16. The Germans broke into wild celebrations after that goal, which Sweden coach Janne Andersson described as "scornful". The German authorities, however, took action and suspended two of their backroom staff for making provocative gestures at the Swedes.

Sweden's Jimmy Durmaz subjected to death threats, racial abuse

The Germany-Sweden match was without a doubt the most controversial at this World Cup so far. Sweden's Jimmy Durmaz, who conceded a freekick just outside the 18-yard box that led to the German winner, has been getting death threats and racial abuse from irate Swedish fans. The fans have put the blame squarely on him for the loss. Durmaz was born in Sweden to Assyrian parents who had emigrated from Turkey.